CrossFit vs. Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) vs. F45

Fitness friends! If you’re reading this, you’re probably considering which one of the above three fitness programs to start. I want to start off by saying that I’m a fan of anything that gets people off the couch and moving. In that spirit, kudos to Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) and F45 for creating a fun, and safe environment for people to work out in.

I did a free trial at Orange Theory fitness in the Domain (just one class), and two free classes at F45 in the Domain. I wanted to experience them both first-hand before giving an opinion. Not surprisingly, they were both solid workouts.

Disclaimers:

1. I have been a CrossFit gym owner for five years now, and a coach for seven. As I mentioned above, I only did ONE class at Orange Theory, and TWO at F45. I’ll try to be as objective and honest as possible in my review. But you should also know that I’m not 100% sold on every element of the CrossFit methodology and business model, either. If it doesn’t line up with solid principles for training, then I’ll raise an eyebrow regardless of which side of the aisle it’s coming from (This is true to the point that it caused a split with an old business partner.)

2. Every CrossFit gym is independently owned and operated, with 0 quality control from CrossFit. The same is not true for OTF and F45. This obviously means that your experience at different CrossFit gyms is going to be WILDLY different. It also makes doing a comparison like this difficult, so I’ll be comparing OTF and F45 to the standard that I feel CF gyms should be holding. If you do decide on doing CrossFit, read my blog post here on how to find a good CrossFit gym near you. 

The class was at OTF was split into 3 groups, that rotate between stations of treadmill, rowing, and circuit style elements with light dumbbells and bodyweight movements. Facility was great, coaches were super friendly, engaging and motivating.

F45’s classes use a larger number of stations (10 in one of the classes I did), and more variety in equipment.

One difference right off the bat at F45, was that the coach asked me if I had any injuries or physical issues that needed to be addressed. Which was NOT something that I was asked at OTF. while I appreciated that I was asked that at F45, I feel that that’s the bare minimum. If you really take fitness and coaching seriously, you should be doing at least some sort of physical evaluation of a new client before asking them to do deadlifts, put barbells overhead etc. Just for the record though, most CF gyms don’t do this either. 

Watch the video review above, or the more in-depth point by point review below!

COST –

OTF – 4x Month is $69, and Unlimited is $169.

F45 – Unlimited weekly is between $60 and $65

CF – At our gym, 9x Month is $135, 13x a Month is $165 and Unlimited is $185. Both of those plans with us include a quarterly goal setting session with a coach. When you factor in that goal setting session, cost per month is close between the two.

Conclusion – Advantage CF and OTF. Obviously much higher price at F45, similar price point between CF and OTF. For reference, our gym is not the most expensive in the area, but also not the cheapest. Expect F45 to be 25-33% more than CF and OTF in your area. 

FACILITIES –

OTF – Corporate fitness feel. 4 showers/ bathroom/ changing areas, very clean and well maintained. Workout floor was super well organized, giant screens showing heart rate at every station, and smaller screens in the “weight room” area showing all the dumbbell/TRX band movements done in the strength circuit. Probably around 2000 square feet. Didn’t love the orange lights everywhere.

F45 – Corporate fitness feel. 4 showers/ bathroom/ changing areas, shower gels and shampoos, chilled scented towels, very clean and well maintained. Workout floor was super well organized, 3 large screens showing exercises at each “pod” and screens for heart rate in the back of the room. Probably around 2500 square feet. 

CF – Garage gym feel. No linen service etc. Some CrossFits are looking more and more like corporate fitness, but most will probably still have a much more rugged feel. Our gym has one bathroom, and one shower/changing area that I literally built myself, that I did tile work for the first time in (turned out pretty well too).

Conclusion – Advantage F45. If you’re after all the amenities, then F45 slightly edges out OTF in my opinion. 

COACHES CERTIFICATION –

OTF – You must have an accredited certificate either through, ASCS, NASM or another nationally recognized entity. Then OTF conducts it’s own training which lasts one full week and is 9-4 every day.

F45 – According to the coach I spoke to, you do not have to have any certification to coach at F45. That being said, all the coaches at the location I went to were certified through ASCS, NASM or CSCS.

CF – Weekend certification is all that’s required not only to coach but to OPEN a CF gym. This is one of my biggest beefs with CrossFit. After learning over a weekend how to coach someone through an air squat, you can call yourself a coach, or even open your own gym. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t qualified CF gym owners and coaches out there, but you have to look at their qualifications beyond their CrossFit affiliation.

Conclusion – Advantage OTF. The standard at all OTF will be a high level of certification, while the same is not true of CrossFit, or of F45. That being said, CrossFit is really the only one of the three where coaches actually have the time to coach and correct movement.

COACHING –

OTF – Movements were demonstrated very quickly, I wasn’t timing but seemed like maybe :10 seconds to demo each of the body weight and dumbbell movements during our circuit. The fast-paced nature of the class and split stations aren’t conducive to in-depth coaching. ONE coach per class of up to 24 people.

For instance, we were doing single-leg dumbbell deadlifts (props to OTF for including some good functional movements in their program). I used one dumbbell on the same side hand as the leg I was using. (This adds a core stability anti-rotation component to the movement.) The coach asked me why I was doing it like that, I said, “I don’t know,” and he said, “I don’t think it makes much difference anyway.” During this conversation, I rounded my back on purpose, to see if he would correct me, but he did not. As a coach, I would have been all over both of those points.

F45 – Movements were demonstrated very quickly, again, not using my stopwatch but only slightly more detail-oriented coaching than at OTF, maybe :15-20 seconds per movement. TWO coaches per class of up to 20 people.

Just like at OTF, I purposely rounded my back on EVERY.SINGLE.DEADLIFT  I did, and was not corrected once. Ironically the only coaching cue that I got was to bend my knees while overhead pressing with 50lbs, apparently to take pressure off my low back (a cue I’ve never heard before), but the coaches were not worried about the 88lb deadlifts I was doing like a turtle.

CF – Again, all CF gyms are different, but a good CF gym not only educates you on HOW you perform certain movements, but also on WHY. In the example of the Dumbbell deadlift above, it’s important to maintain a tight core and neutral spine while bending over (a skill that will be used in day to day life). I would want clients to understand that, as well as the training difference between holding the dumbbell in different hands, holding two dumbbells at the same time, etc.

Conclusion – Advantage CF. I want to give OTF and F45 the benefit of the doubt and say that the coaches are good, but they simply don’t have time because of how the class structure is organized. Coaches at OTF and F45, in my opinion, are there more to direct traffic and give out high fives than actually correct form.

PROGRAMMING –

OTF – The program is essentially a mix of high-intensity cyclical activity (rowing, running), mixing in body building (muscle hypertrophy). This should cause anyone familiar with solid strength training programs to raise an eyebrow, simply because hypertrophy work is not ideally performed at close to max heart rate. BUT… that’s the same principle at play in most CrossFit programs, which push intensity within hypertrophy/muscle endurance workouts.

F45 – The program is only based on intervals of work and rest, and uses much more equipment than OTF. They repeat workouts every month that are the same structure of stations and intervals. They have a “cardio” day, and a “strength” day, but they both felt pretty similar to me. I have a similar criticism to OTF, in that hypertrophy training should not occur at close to max heart rate. 

CF – CrossFit programs are a mix of skill/movement development, gymnastics, multi-joint movements performed against resistance for either skill-building, muscle endurance, increasing muscle size, or increasing top-end muscle strength. All of the above elements can occur during circuit training for intensity, or on their own to emphasize technique and quality. Better CrossFit gyms will structure their program so that it adheres to good strength and conditioning principles, emphasizing control and movement quality before intensity, and recognizing that the sport of CrossFit is very different than training.

Conclusion – Advantage CF. As I mentioned earlier, there are parts of all three programs that I don’t agree with, but CrossFit has more flexibility to be done really well than OTF or F45 do. Additionally, good CF gyms focus much more on movement quality. This is very important for connecting fitness to life in general, not just the hour you spend at the gym few days a week. Also worth noting, all CrossFit gyms are responsible for their own programs. Some choose to use the workouts posted on CrossFit.com, or from other blogs, while OTF  and F45 only use workouts written by their HQs.

NUTRITION –

OTF – No official company position, no nutritional guidance is given unless a specific OTF coach takes it upon themselves to offer nutrition advice.

F45 – Slick app with meal plans and macros.

CF – CrossFit as a company advocates Paleo and Zone Paleo diets. Most gyms offer nutritional information upfront, and or run nutrition programs in addition to membership. Again, this will vary on a gym by gym basis but in general, I think CF does a much better job in promoting a healthy diet in conjunction with exercise.

Conclusion – Advantage CF, followed by F45. I appreciate that F45 offers it’s nutrition app, but after working with clients for 5 years I know that macros are not ideal to implement with someone right off the bat. For instance, if someone can’t be complaint with something as basic as drinking the right amount of water in a day, why would you give them target grams of fat, protein and carbs to count? 

COMMUNITY –

OTF – No gym facebook group. The coach I spoke to said that he organized happy hour type events once every three months or so.

F45 – I looked around I did see that F45 has private facebook pages for some gyms, but the one I went to did not. 

CF – Most gyms will have both a public facebook page and private group for members only. In addition to happy hours, generally CrossFit gyms also get members together for CrossFit competitions, obstacle course races, recreational sports, barbecues, bowling etc.

Conclusion – Advantage CF. The fact that almost all CF gyms are mom and pop shops, just creates a more organic community feel than a corporate fitness gym. Kind of like the difference between Walmart and your neighborhood grocery store.

FINAL THOUGHTS –

If you’re newer to strength training and you’re still a little afraid of barbells and garage gyms, OTF and to a lesser extent F45, area great options. CrossFit demands a little more thinking, requiring you to stop sometimes and really learn to control your body and understand why you’re doing a movement, which might be more than some people want. Maybe you don’t really care about maintaining a neutral spine while bending over or learning how to climb a rope, or work towards learning a handstand. Some people just want to zone out and move for an hour straight. If that sounds like you, then I would give OTF or F45 a shot.

Some people also don’t like the gym to be a social hour. If that sounds like you, then I think F45 or OTF would also be better options.

Do you want to get strong? If so then CrossFit is going to be the only one of the three to actually help you build serious strength.

Are you interested in being coached on form and knowing the “why” behind all the movements you’re doing? Do you want coaching through those movements at a higher level? Then CrossFit is definitely a better option (provided you find a gym with great coaches). Also, if you’ve tried other fitness programs before and not had success, either because of lack of accountability and/ or poor/no nutritional advice, then CrossFit is hands down the better option because of the community feel, and the attention you’ll get from your coaches.

Thanks for reading and or watching the video, please comment below with your thoughts!

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